Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
Publication date 01 Nov 2016
"Which is better, the book or the movie?"
As a #booknerd4life, my answer is consistently, perpetually, invariably THE BOOK. Well, back up book lovers, I'm about to change the game on you. I actually liked the movie better! *ducks and covers*
Before I'm tarred and feathered in betrayal and shame, let me explain.
Mortal Engines is a dystopian story about a future world that we have destroyed in what they call, but do not describe, "The 60-minute War." Earth's crust is disrupted somehow and as tectonic plates shift, people mobilize their cities into monstrous structures on tracks, which they move around as the land moved. Intrigued? So was I!
Flash forward 1,000 years, and technological development is back to the Ford era. Automobiles and engines? Yes. Computers and phones? Nope and no. These mobile cities cannibalize each other for parts and resources in an economic structure they aptly call "Municipal Darwinism."
In the future mobile city of London, the Mayor is an active member of the Engineering guild. He values everything modern and mobile and nothing historic or stagnant (or as they call it, anti-traction.) Tom is an apprentice Historian, 3rd class. He gets assigned gut duty after London "eats" a small town. There his life collides with a girl named Hester Shore, who tries to kill Valentine, the Head Historian, and Tom finds out that not everything his leaders have told them is true, and that sometimes, we ignore the lessons history has taught us in our race for technology and power.
The tangled web of this story should have been wonderful. I love dystopia, and I love political intrigue. But some of the reasoning behind the characters actions was not explicit enough. There are areas of the story that could have been cleaner, and other areas that the writer could have elaborated upon more. And the movie took care of some of that, of which my examples will follow.
First, I liked that the movie had one villain. It makes more sense. I never truly understood Valentine's personality. He's an adventurer, brave enough for a sword fight, and cruel enough to murder someone for something he wants, but cannot stand up to a weasily mayor, when he seems to be more popular with the city people than him. Now if he were himself an engineer, the story makes more sense. The movie corrected this flaw.
Secondly, the weapon they are building seems to come together at way too convenient a time to Hester's reappearance in Valentine's life after 7 years. She just so happens to find him and weasel her way onto London at the right time to become entangled in the conspiracy, which was just a little too convenient for me. The movie corrected the coincidence by making Tom a "hoarder" of old tech. He keeps the dangerous bits and gets rid of them. Bringing me to my third "reason the movie was better..."
Most importantly, the book barely touches upon the 60-Minute War. The moral of this story is quite obvious, "Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it." In man's quest for power through technology, he overlooks history's lessons in his own greed. In order to really bring the point home, we need more world building. More descriptions of the destroyed landscape, more accounting of the war itself. I don't even think nuclear weapons were mentioned in the book. The movie paints a more vivid picture, with Tom's map of the new world, and a frankly more plausible description of the weapon they are trying to recreate.
Now are a couple major things that I had a problem with in the movie adaptation.
One, Hester is supposed to be horribly scarred and ugly, and missing one eye. The movie made her just a beautiful girl with a facial scar. Here's why I don't like it. I'm not spoiling anything when I tell you that, of course the male and female protagonists will have a love story. It's an unavoidable trope. Tom is in love with a rich pretty city girl, Valentine's daughter in fact, but slowly falls for Hester despite her looks. I loved that part of the book. I wanted her to be uglier on screen. At least an eye patch, is that too much to ask?!
“You aren't a hero and I'm not beautiful and we probably won't live happily ever after " she said. "But we're alive and together and we're going to be all right.” -Hester Shore, Mortal Engines
And secondly, they really played up that "Luke I am your Father" trope in the movie. Unless there's something to do with that line of the story in the sequel (I have not heard of a second movie being made,) that part was really unnecessary and just felt thrown in for dramatics. STICK TO THE STORY LINE PEOPLE!
So all in all, it was a good story, but I wanted more. There are more books in the series, but the ending didn't set them up at all, so I'm not sure what they're about and am not in a huge hurry to read them.
3/5, good story, but not a must read or a re-read for me.